There is no getting away from the fact that Lord of the Dance was an intoxicating evening’s entertainment that swept the audience members along with its feelgood, wow factor.
The mixture of heart racing footwork, elegant dance, foot tapping fiddle playing and evocative singing, all set within a fast-flowing good v. evil tale, cannot fail to engage. Even someone like me, who is late to the party and never seen Michael Flatley’s revolutionary take on Irish dancing, now counts himself a fan of this contemporary approach to the folk dance.
Much of the audience, however, seemed to have been fans of the American-Irish dancer and choreographer since before some of the dancers on the stage had been born, and Flatley was ever-present in the show, whether the opening film celebration of his achievements in the genre to a clever life like virtual performance of the man himself (actually three of him) dancing. As I can only review on the basis of the live perfomance in front of me, there were times when a little less of the master’s virtual presence would have aided my concentration on the actual performers.
The Lord of the Dance at the opening night in Cardiff was the powerhouse Matt Smith (pictured) who brought his own persona to the role of the hero who saves the day by defeating the powers of the dark side led by the Dark Lord, danced with panto menace by Zoltan Papp. Each of these leaders have their own band of warrior-dancers and they are extremely impressive (whether wearing their shirts or not!). Whether transfixing us with his foot work to whooping up the audience to a verbal frenzy, he was both a splendid agile dancer and showman.
The dance styles ranged from gentle and flowing, pacy jigs, intricate duets to military stomping and, most effectively, the synchronised magic of the entire cast on stage.
The story (basic at is) was held together by a bouncy Spirit, a charming and lively Cassidy Ludwig, whose pipe playing of the well-known hymn Lord of the Dance was integral to the flow of the work and, without giving away too much of the plot, must overcome the symbolic removal of that talisman.
The show does have the feel of having been built around Michael Flatley and is for that reason dominated by the new male dancers taking on his legacy as the Lord of the Dance, with different leading men in different performances. Yet, the massively talented women dancers, particularly Niamh Shevlin and Frances Dunne as the two protagonists Saorise and Morrighan, demanded our attention throughout, with some of the most lyrical and sensual movements. I am pretty sure in the “black swan/white swan” seduction of the Lord I am pretty sure the word “bitch” was mouthed (I may be wrong), and when the goodie goodie gals whipped off their frocks (think Bucks Fuzz) it was clear they were no sugar plum fairies
The New Theatre stage was brought to life with effective video projections and theatrical effects that transform what is by necessity a simple set, a stepped platform at the rear for the dancers to move along, up and down, but leaving the wide-open space for the glorious dancing that is, of course, the raison d’etre of the show.
The dancing was broken up by several gorgeous songs, including the beautiful Carrickfergus, from gloriousy-voiced North Wales singer Celyn Cartwright as Erin the Goddess. Adding to the delight were two fiddle players, Gianda Costenaro and Aisling Sage, who had to demonstrate some niftiness in their own footwork as well as finger and bow dexterity. With new music by Gerald Fahy, plenty of costume changes, sharp scene changes and, vitally, high precision perfect dancing, the mixture is indeed as potent as the jigs are catchy.
At times it is can be as camp as Christmas and even risks bordering on the kitsch, but such is the remarkable style combined with athleticism of the dancers, it remains on the right side of being a highly entertaining, extremely impressive and mesmerising show. This is a revised 25th anniversary version of the show with some new music, numbers and costumes – and features some dancers who have been with the company for most of their young working lives and their dedication and commitment to the Flatley project to transform Irish dance was evident throughout.
The statistics surrounding the success of Michael Flatley and his touring show are literally the stuff of the Guinness Book of Records and show no sign of abating, having, we are told, been performed in more than 1,000 venues worldwide and having been seen by over 60 million people, in 60 different countries and on every continent. One day someone will probably be able to also add how many pairs of shows have been worn, not to mention how many flowing wigs!
The show has a strapline of 25 Years of Standing Ovations and the Cardiff audience members rose to their feet to keep that tradition alive.
Having been in Belfast at the same time as the World Irish Dance Championships I am sure there are plenty more young dancers waiting to get into that troupe.
New Theatre, Cardiff until Wednesday April 27.